Episode 59: Live with Gary K. Wolfe!

As the weather in Perth turns cooler, and presumably as Spring prepares to give way to Summer in Chicago, Gary Wolfe and I once again take the chance to ramble on all subjects SFnal. This morning Gary was just home from a local convention and we discussed Marion Zimmer Bradley, art vs. craft, Robert Silverberg, and gender in genre.  A pretty typical day on Coode St. As always, we hope you enjoy the podcast.

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  1. C. J. Cherryh started portraying strong female protagonists with Gate of Ivrel in 1976. She’s also been very prolific, and so may be in that category of writers not always given credit due to lack of a signature/classic individual book (though she does have a couple of award-winners) but who is consistently strong in terms of craft, and I thought she fit in with some of the other writers that came up during the podcast. I’d be curious to know how Cherryh is seen from the feminist critical perspective, or in terms of her general place in the field…

    Thanks as always for the interesting discussion…

  2. Robert Silverberg actually DID write a Cthulhu story – “Demons of Cthulhu”, published as by Charles D. Hammer, in a magazine called Monster Parade, in March 1959-

  3. I really enjoyed this one, as you might expect. :) lots of crunchy discussion on gender!

    I agree absolutely about the importance of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon – it was a hugely important work, in feminist fiction, in historical fiction and in epic fantasy. The sheer popularity of it in mainstream culture – it’s taught in universities! – and the radical reworking of such a popular myth to show that you can tell that kind of story (kings, politics, battles, war, magic) almost entirely through the eyes of women was groundbreaking. I read it early enough in my own discoveries of fantasy fiction that I took that female POV quite for granted, but I can see how it would have been extraordinary for readers at the time it was released, and can see absolutely why so many generations of women embraced it and continue to do so.

    I was a little surprised to hear you talk about the iconic status/importance of Bradley as a writer in science fiction and fantasy as if this was somehow a matter of debate. It never occurred to me that she wasn’t – I was never a Darkover fan (as with Pern and Valdemar, I missed these ones in my reading of older SF/fantasy as a teenager, and have never found time or inclination to read them as an adult) but I read a lot of her 80’s fantasy and it formed a cornerstone of my understanding of the genre. Even without being familiar with the entirety of her work, her name has always stood out to me as one of the more famous and popular writers of our field, along with McCaffrey, Mercedes Lackey, Brooks, Eddings, etc.

    Mists of Avalon is hugely important, I think, for what it does and what it demonstrates that can be done with fantasy and mythology – though personally I have a far softer spot for The Firebrand, which does exactly the same thing, but with the Trojan cycle, at two thirds the length of MoA.

    Something that really struck me in this podcast was the discussion on how MZB’s popularity and prolific output have potentially sabotaged her reputation as an important writer in the field. That floored me. Despite your elaboration on that idea with the examples of Robert Silverberg and Michael Moorcock (who are, let’s face it, both considered absolute giants in the field and in no way in danger of losing those reputations any time soon), it seems to me (and I DO recognise that I’ve been living and breathing the works of Joanna Russ this week so this stuff is at the forefront of my mind) that it’s really only women writers who can be dismissed in importance due to being popular and/or prolific.

    She wrote it, but she wrote too many of them.
    She wrote it, but she was too popular.


    Terry Brooks, for instance – I have never found anyone who liked his Shannara books at all, but he is regularly credited with his influence on the genre regardless of critical acclaim. Why on earth would the popularity of Mists of Avalon or even the Darkover series have a detrimental effect on MZB’s legacy as a writer? I also think that the argument that a huge backlist can be problematic in allowing a new reader to discover old writers makes no sense in this particular instance because regardless of how many Darkover volumes there are, MZB has that single, famous, iconic book for which she is known even outside science fiction and fantasy circles.

    If she isn’t regularly remembered as a vital, influential writer in our field, then who is it she is not being remembered by? And why should that be the case? I honestly don’t think that a large backlist or the massive popularity of MoA cut it as reasons. So what other reasons could there be?

  4. I don’t think this is a gender issue. I think when your later works are lesser ones it can significantly impact on your reputation. Bradley was seriously ill in her later work, and a lot of books were published under her name in collaboration that weren’t up to her standard, and I think those significantly impacted on her reputation.

    Who is she not remembered by? Well, ask yourself this: when you hear people talk about major women SF/F writers of the last 40 years, how many times do you hear her name mentioned? You hear Russ, Tiptree, Le Guin and so on, but it takes a while before you hear MZB’s name mentioned, rightly or wrongly.

  5. “Rambling with Gary and Jonathan”

    Actually, there was (until about 10 years ago) a radio show in NYC called “Rambling with Gambling” which was hosted by, over its 75 years of life, several generations of the Gambling family…

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